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Cal Men's Basketball Preview: The Wings

It's not often that you lose the Pac-12 Player of the Year and feel that you were able to re-load on the wing. But bringing in all-everything shooting guard Jabari Bird is about the best replacement that Coach Mike Montgomery could have envisioned. And he's not alone. If you count a now-healthy Ricky Kreklow as a new player along with the precocious Jordan Mathews, it's arguably the best infusion of talent on the wing that Cal has ever seen. Salivating yet? We've come a long way from "Two Baskets and a Ball" or the "Let's Just Keep Passing It Around the Perimeter" offense. Instead of trying to buy minutes for the starting guards with just one sub, we might actually be able to go 4-5 deep. Can you imagine what a future Hall of Fame coach might do with a variety of shooting, slashing, and defensive skill sets at his disposal? I think we're all very much looking forward to seeing the new-look Bears.


The Wings:

Jeff Powers(RSr), 6'7, 223 lbs

Nicknamed "The Rifleman" by his high school coach, we all know that the former De La Salle star can certainly shoot the rock. In limited time throughout his Cal career, his playing time has been restricted by struggles on the defensive end. If Solo and Kravish can lock things down defensively, it might free some time for another specialist to stretch the floor on offense. With all the talented young players coming in, it'll be up to Powers to up his all-around game if he's going to earn time.

Ricky Kreklow(RJr), 6'6, 210 lbs

Known as a shooter and scrappy defender, we've only gotten to see a shadow of the true Ricky Kreklow because of a nagging foot injury last year. In glimpses, we saw the hustle, intensity, and eyes-in-the-back-of-the head passing ability that made him an instant fan favorite. If he can go, he's an instant difference-maker because he'll set the tone defensively. By intangibles alone, he's worth an extra 1-2 possessions per game because he'll get to loose balls or disrupt a play from sheer effort. For a Cal team that has occasionally had issues with focus and intensity, Kreklow's return is exactly what Monty needs. If a return to health also brings back confidence in his jumpshot, he could make a dark horse run at all-conference honors.

"People are going to finally see Ricky Kreklow for the type of player he is because he's not going to have to worry about that foot," Cobbs said. "He's Jorge (Gutierrez) with a little jumper."
"Ricky very active. He loves physicality, diving on the floor, getting under people's skin on defense," Cobbs said. "That's what we need."

Kahlil Johnson(So), 6'7, 206 lbs

A bit of a tweener at the 3 spot, Johnson was one of the stars of last year's pre-season scrimmages. He definitely doesn't lack confidence in his outside shot. However, his hot hand in practice didn't translate into in-game production or minutes. Like Powers, he'll need to show that he can hold his own defensively if he's going to see the floor. Against certain match-ups, it's been mentioned that he might see some time as a stretch four. He's another guy who will have to really step up his game or find himself passed over by the talented newcomers.

Jabari Bird(Fr), 6'6, 190 lbs

Jason Kidd. Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Leon Powe. That's the level of program-changing impact expected from a McDonald's All-American and consensus 5* recruit. No pressure. As the penciled-in replacement to Pac-12 POY Allen Crabbe, the Bears will look to Bird to help manufacture points right out of the gates. A natural scorer, Jabari might not have Crabbe's outside shot, but he may already have the more dangerous game off the dribble. He also possesses more jaw-dropping athleticism than any Cal player in recent memory. Like all of Cal's youngsters, he needs to get stronger and will likely take his lumps learning to hold his own defensively. But if he develops, this is the type of player which will let Monty compete with the big dogs of college basketball. Buckle up and enjoy him while you can.

Per Justin Cobbs: "Me and Jabari played on the same summer league team. He's a scorer. He just scores at will. He can get any shot he wants. He's a knock-down shooter. If you leave him open, it's going in. He's very athletic also."

Frank Cohen has a detailed and glowing write-up here:

Jordan Mathews(Fr), 6'3, 195 lbs

If not for Bird, Mathews would have been considered the gem of this year's class. Smart, tough, and skilled, he's the perfect fit for a Mike Montgomery team. Although he's a capable jump-shooter, he's also strong enough to get to the basket. Early on, Cal will ask him to provide scoring off the bench at both the 2 and 3. If he develops his ball-handling, he might eventually also share time running the point. For anyone familiar with his father, Coach Phil Mathews, it's no surprise that Jordan is known for his high motor, intensity, and work ethic. Reports from summer workouts are that Mathews has impressed and will push for early time this year.

Per Justin Cobbs: "Jordan plays with a lot of confidence. He can also shoot the ball and has a strong body. He's kind of like myself in the body, how he can get to the basket. I think he's going to be effective for us this year."

Frank Cohen's scoop is here:


Because of injuries and transfers, Cal has played a very short rotation the past few seasons. All of sudden, we find ourselves with depth on the wing, particularly if you consider that Cobbs and Wallace both have the ability to slide over off the ball. It'll be interesting to see whether Bird wins a starting job outright or gets eased in as a 6th man and designated microwave. You'd have to think that Kreklow's defense and overall intensity should give him an inside edge. Although his versatility lets him back up the 1, 2, and 3, I suspect Monty would be more comfortable going with experience and just sliding guys on/off the ball as needed.

It's probably best to temper excitement until whether we see if the youngster are ready for Pac-12 ball; even highly touted high school players typically go through an adjustment period. The last time we had a highly regarded class, only Crabbe and Solomon ended up as contributors.

But if the new players are as advised, there's a lot to be excited about for the upcoming season. Go Bears!